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Review of Language and Literacy In Bilingual Children
Date: Tue, 24 Sep 2002 01:32:43 -0500 From: Sunita Singh Subject: Applied Linguistics: Oller & Eilers (2002) Language and Literacy in Bilingual Children
Oller, Kimbrough and Rebecca E. Eilers, eds. (2002) Language and Literacy in Bilingual Children. Multilingual Matters, paperback ISBN 1-85359-570-5, Child Language and Child Development No. 2.
Sunita Singh, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
INTRODUCTION This book is a methodological as well as theoretical contribution to the study of bilingualism in linguistics and language and literacy in education. It weaves in the socio-cultural/political as well as cognitive aspects of the phenomenon of bilingualism. The results from assessments in both languages of the bilingual and comparison of the results with those of the monolinguals gives an insight as to the complexities a study amongst bilingual individuals needs to incorporate. The assessments give a holistic picture of the bilingual since they include effects of linguistic and metacognitive skills of the bilinguals, socio-economic status, interplay of languages spoken at home and the classroom and different methods of instruction in the classroom, either immersion in a single language or divided to incorporate the home and the school language during different parts of the day. The main concerns addressed in the book are whether bilingualism causes cognitive or educational damage to the children or is it a source of enrichment for them cognitively and educationally. The different studies in the book are all based on the same pool of subjects in the Miami, and this enables to maintain a continuum in the different chapters even though it is an edited volume.
SUMMARY OF THE CONTENTS The book comprises twelve chapter divided into four parts. Part 1 including chapters 1 and 2 frames the background of the study including the variables, the subjects and the setting. Part 2 consisting of chapters 3 through 6, describe the results of the performance of the students on the standardized tests and language use. Part 3 in chapters 7 through 11 addresses studies of the phonological, morphological, syntactic and discourse structures in the bilingual language performance. Part 4 discusses the theoretical implications of the different studies and responds to the questions discussed in Part 1.
PART 1 Background Chapter 1, Assessing the Effects of Bilingualism: A Background (D. K. Oller and B.Z. Pearson), addresses the issue that the effects of bilingual education for students who have limited English proficiency (LEP) can be captured only when the study incorporates factors of varying socioeconomic status (SES), takes into account the home as well as school language, assessment is done in both home and school languages and different instructional patterns, total immersion program as well as two-way bilingualism methods are compared.
Chapter 2, An Integrated Approach to Evaluating Effects of Bilingualism in Miami School Children: The Study Design(D. K. Oller & R. E. Eilers) outlines the basic methodology used for the study in the consecutive chapters. It highlights the dependent variables used for the study to be the English and the Spanish oral language as well as academic performance based on evaluation of linguistic variables and standardized tests. The study is based in Miami. The main significance of the study is the incorporation of (SES), language spoken at home (LSH), and methods of instruction at school (IMS) as the independent variables and the Miami situation provides a perspective where one can build upon these variables.
PART 2: Overall Results on Language Use and Standardized Test Performance Chapter 3, Bilingualism and Cultural Assimilation in Miami Hispanic Children R. (E. Eilers, D. K. Oller & A. B. Cobo-Lewis), provides a thick description regarding the language use (Spanish or English) in the schools. The first aim was to see whether a particular instructional method (English immersion or dual language) allowed for more use of one language than specified for in the curriculum. The second aim was to see the pattern of language used by the children, taking into account variables for language maintenance /shift.
Chapter 4, Effects of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education on Oral and Written English Skills (A. B. Cobo-Lewis, B. Z. Pearson, R. E. Eilers & V. C. Umbel) probes the influence and interaction of the independent variables on the performance of the bilingual and the monolingual children. Specifically, it aims to see the role of SES in their performance with respect to the different IMS and LSH as well as the change in performance of the bilinguals across the grades.
Chapter 5, Effects of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education on Oral and Written Spanish Skills (A. B. Cobo-Lewis, B. Z. Pearson, R. E. Eilers & V. C. Umbel) aims to see the performance of the Spanish speaking children and the interaction of the SES, IMS and LSH in the assessment of language and literacy. It also includes a comparative performance of the bilingual children with respect to the monolingual norms.
Chapter 6, Interdependence of Spanish and English Knowledge in Language and Literacy among Bilingual Children (A. B. Cobo-Lewis, R. E. Eilers, B Z Pearson & V. C. Umbel) intends to see the relation in the performance of the bilinguals in English and Spanish. Additive/subtractive nature of the bilingualism was investigated and the correlation between the variables of SES, LSH and IMS and relation between the performance in the two languages, if any.
PART 3: Probe Studies on Complex Language Capabilities Chapter 7, Narrative Competence among Monolingual and Bilingual School Children in Miami (B. Z. Pearson), tests the hypotheses that the relationship in the narrative performance in one language will be related to another, though the different elements that make up this measure might not be necessarily related and a two-way instruction for the bilinguals will enhance their performance.
Chapter 8, Command of the Mass/count Distinction in Bilingual and Monolingual Children (V. C. Mueller Gathercole)
Chapter 9, Grammatical Gender in Bilingual and Monolingual Children (V. C. Mueller Gathercole)
Chapter 10, Monolingual and Bilingual Acquisition: Learning Different Treatments of that-trace Phenomenon in English and Spanish (V. C. Mueller Gathercole)
These three chapters investigate the similarity/differences in the timing and patterns of the acquisition of morphosyntactic elements in English and Spanish between the bilingual and the monolingual children. These chapters also investigate the role of the variables used in the study (SES, LSH and IMS) in the acquisition of the morphosyntactic features. In chapters 8 and 9, the aim is to see the acquisition of mass/count distinction in English and gender in Spanish amongst monolingual and bilingual children since Spanish does not have a mass/count distinction and English does not have grammatical gender whereas Spanish does. The secondary aim is also to see whether there is any difference in the acquisition of these elements and that-trace phenomenon, an attribution of universal grammar.
Chapter 11, The Ability of Bilingual and Monolingual Children to Perform Phonological Translation (D. K. Oller and A. B. Cobo-Lewis) investigates whether bilinguals have a singular phonological knowledge that may aid in their reading and points out to some novel relationships between phonological abilities and literacy skills.
PART 4: A Retrospective View of the Research Chapter 12, Balancing Interpretations Regarding Effects of Bilingualism (D. K. Oller and R. E. Eilers) is a summary statement of the investigations in the previous chapters. This chapter discusses the needs of educational implications for a study in bilingualism with the interaction of the factors of SES, IMS and LSH. It points out to the educational practices that can be most beneficial to the bilingual children without obstructing their development in English Two way education.
CRITICAL EVALUATION The book is an invaluable contribution to research in bilingualism in fields of linguistics as well as language and literacy. The thick description certainly is an asset to researchers interested in research on similar lines. The extensive sample used for the study is certainly an asset to the field. Even though the investigators do not use longitudinal data and it becomes difficult to see the developmental process, the sample from different grades fills the present aim. The blending of the investigations into literacy and language capturing the assessment in both skills gives a holistic picture of the bilingual nature of individuals.
Though this text uses standardized tests for the measurement of literacy skills taking into account variables of SES, IMS and LSH, the use of standardized tests is not favored by all researchers because of the problems faced by the use of these tests. The Spanish and the English versions were used and the use of assessments in the native language is what the second language learners need (p. 68). These standardized tests are normed in English and in Spanish, but since the Spanish speaking children were tested in English also, the English tests were used for them were the same as used for the monolingual English speakers. Valdes and Figueroa (1994, p. 172) highlight a problem in these kinds of assessments by pointing out to the use of tests not normed on the population it is tested on. They point out that it amounts to doing of tasks they do not know how to do. In this case, the English versions would be normed on the English speaking population but used by bilingual Spanish speaking children. Another question that arises with regard to the standardized tests is that whether they assess the school philosophy and the classroom curriculum. A study by Carlise and Beeman (2000, pp. 339) talks about the inappropriateness of the assessment of literacy acquisition of second language learners only using standardized tests. Though the research does include observations of the language spoken by the students, but also the assessment is done in several schools, it is a problem to make the assessment reflect the classroom curriculum.
The inclusion of the language spoken at home as one of the variables lends itself to the strength of the study and allows one to see the relation between the language spoken at home and the language spoken at school. Siraj-Blatchford and Clarke (2000, p. 22) point out to the fact that childhood educators need to be familiar with the home of the children, their social class, status, culture, home language, and provide an environment in their classroom that is supportive of their needs since these children are feared to be marginalized and have anxiety in starting out their schooling experiences. Though the research takes into account the home language, it is hoped that the teachers do that too in forming their classroom routines. In the recent years there have been studies stressing on the need to establish home-school connections and consequently the need to investigate home literacy as well. Since the aim of the book is not just an evaluation of the acquisition patterns but also offering practical solutions as to instructional methods used in the school, the strength could have been enhanced if family literacy was also included as an integral part, not just language spoken at home. Nickse (1990) also points out to the fact that the first and the best teachers for the children are their parents/families and Jalongo (2000, p. 45) points to the fact that if parents and teachers work in harmony, much more can be achieved.
One question that arises for me is the conclusion regarding the language systems of the child, that the systems develop independently (p. 253). I wonder if the assessments had any evidence of code-switching and how does one account for code-switching in the early ages? Bertha and Torres-Guzman (1996, 23) point out that the use of two languages (Spanish and English) actually is equivalent to one language system for the child.
The pessimistic note of the authors regarding the Miami situation seems a little disheartening in that even the standing of the Latin culture is unable to counter the forces of English dominance and children continue to give preference to English and continued immigration is the only solution for language maintenance (p. 63).
REFERENCES Carlisle, Joanne F. and Beeman, Margaret M. 2000. The Effects of Language of Instruction on the Reading and Writing Achievement of First-Grade Hispanic Children Scientific Studies of Reading, 4(4), 331-353, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Jalongo, Mary Reneck, 2000. Early Childhood Language Arts Second Edition. Allyn and Bacon.
Nickse, R. S. 1990. Family and Intergenerational Literacy Programs. Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearing House on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education, Number RI88062005.
Perez Bertha and Maria E Torres-Guzman. 1996. Learning in two worlds - An integrated Spanish/English Biliteracy Approach. Longman Publishers, USA
Siraj-Blatchford, Priscilla Clarke. 2000. Supporting Identity, Diversity and Language in the Early Years. Open University Press. Buckingham, Philadelphia. ˇ
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Sunita Singh is a doctoral student in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She has a Masters degree in Psycholinguistics and is currently specializing in reading and writing in the early grades. A native of India, she has worked as an Assistant Editor for a publishing house in Delhi that specializes in publishing text books in Hindi and in English for schools (K-12). She has presented papers on early literacy and linguistics at conferences in India and the US. Her current interests are teacher ideologies and teaching practices in classrooms with students of diverse language backgrounds, including Latino Mexican immigrants and African American children.